Sunday, 1 March 2020

Desert not Dessert, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A

Mt 4:1-11; Gen 2:7-9.3:1-7
I was thinking earlier this week, before Lent began, that it’s going to be a HARD Lent for me this year.
It’s going to be hard because I’ve been COMFORTABLE for a while now, 
and Lent is the opposite of comfortable.
Lent is about us going into the desert,
 to be in union with the Lord who spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying.
-and when I typed that, my computer changed ‘desert’ into ‘dessert’ 
-even my autocorrect is used to comfort and seeking comfort!

I’ve been reading about the English Reformation martyrs 
of how they were hung drawn and quartered in their execution, 
and even before that were frequently tortured to try and make them renounce the Faith. 
I’ve been reading too, about their lives of self-denial and fasting, that prepared them for this torture.
What of us?
Our comfortable modern living makes even a little self-denial in Lent seem too much;
our comfortable modern living can make even the minor disagreeableness of being Christian seem too much.
We live in an era when we’ve tried to make being Christian comfortable.
But, to use the oft-quoted phrase of Pope Benedict: The world promises you comfort.  But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

Lent, as our prayers on Ash Wednesday especially reminded us, is a spiritual “battle”, a “campaign”.
And the “weapons” of this season, as our prayers will repeatedly remind us,
those 3-fold weapons are: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
And I want to spend a minute elaborating about how these three are inter-related, and thus why you can’t just do one of them:
you can’t just “do something positive for Lent”-if it’s going to be LENT.
“do something positive for Lent” -was a phrase in vogue when I was a child, when people were trying to make Christianity more and more ‘comfortable’ and easy 
-but Lent should be authentic, not easy.
And this holds even when our ‘fasting’ is the minor forms of ‘giving something up’ for Lent.

Prayer -we need to pray when we fast,
otherwise fasting becomes only self-control, and can leave us grumpy.
Fasting -we need to fast when we pray
this is what gives POWER to our offered prayer -a spiritual sacrifice offered to the Almighty.
Almsgiving -the fruit of fasting and praying is a more generous heart
fasting detaches me from SELF, and thus FREES me to love other more easily, to give more easily.
The liturgy of the Church for Lent thus quotes St Peter Chysologus [Lent Wk 3 Tues Officer Readings] saying, 
“Prayer, almsgiving and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.  Fasting is the soul of prayer, almsgiving is the lifeblood of fasting.  Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated.  If you do only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.” [Lent Wk 3 Tues Officer Readings].

In our readings today we heard how Adam and Eve were tempted and failed.
In contrast, the Lord Jesus came to un-do their failure, to enter the same battle and WIN:
He was tempted in the desert, and won.
We can be united with Him, we can WIN.
But to do so, we need to enter the battle, and to take up the weapons: prayer, fasting, almsgiving.
We’ve got to be bold enough to put aside a false ‘comfortable’ Christianity,
we’ve got to face the desert, not just live for dessert.

For me, at least, I sense this isn’t going to be any easy battle.
But it’s a battle we don’t fight alone -we join Him in His fighting it      
-and He has already won

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